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Wharton Magazine

Show Your Logic

Avoid conflict and build trust by establishing the “why” behind decisions and sharing it with colleagues.

A hand putting together a jigsaw puzzle with a question mark and a lightbulb

Asking Questions, Unlocking Solutions

How reframing a problem creates value for customers

Vance Chang in a chef hat and Dine Brands Global uniform.

The Future of Fast Food

Alumni dish on the industry's digital transformation.

Wilglory Tanjong in a white jacket and with a black bow around her neck stands in front of a whiteboard holding a bright pink bag. Other bright pink bags are arranged on a table in front of her.

On a meteoric rise through the fiercely competitive luxury retail market, high-end handbag brand Anima Iris has been picked up by Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, and even Beyoncé. With geometric and bold designs, founder Wilglory Tanjong G22 WG22 expresses her ancestry in a fashionable and sustainable way. The bags are made in Senegal by expert craftspeople who have honed their techniques over decades and draw inspiration from centuries of heritage. The leather and other materials are sourced through local African business merchants. Anima Iris is environmentally friendly and employs a zero-waste model that ensures all materials are used and that no two products are the same.

Portrait of Ankur Jain wearing a black shirt and black jeans seated on a chair and holding a microphone.

Bilt Rewards

Bilt Rewards launched in 2021 and achieved immediate success in its first year. The startup credit-card rewards program by founder and CEO Ankur Jain W11 makes redeeming points from purchases easy with a unique twist — the card can be used toward rent payments. Jain explains that renters today are living with inflation and rising rent costs, resulting in many who now must pay close to 50 percent of their earned income on rent. Bilt helps this generation build credit while earning rewards that open up affordability in other areas of their lives, such as travel experiences and eventual home ownership.

A woman in a pink shirt and a man in a light green shirt stand together behind a marble countertop that has six jars of coconut spread on it.

An organic coconut butter with its early roots in Venture Lab’s Food Innovation Lab can now be found in 1,300 stores, including national chains Sprouts and Wegmans. Couple-turned-business-partners Breanna Golestani WG23 and Jared Golestani WG23 founded Kokada in 2020 to provide a healthier alternative to sugar-laden snacks and spreads typically found at the grocery store. Kokada offers a range of coconut butters that are all peanut-free and sugar-free and designed to be enjoyed as a dip, with a treat, or as part of a meal. The company gives back two percent of all sales to SERVE, a certified NGO based in Sri Lanka, where its ingredients are sourced.

Red, white, and black illustration of a doctor and a robot standing side by side and holding hands.

Flagler Health

Developed by Albert Katz WG23 and Will Hu GED19, Flagler Health combines patient data and the power of AI to help physicians recommend treatments to their patients. (“It’s like giving a calculator to a mathematician,” says Katz.) Backed by $6 million in funding, Flagler Health now serves more than 1.5 million patients and recently launched a new product that provides remote patients with exercises to keep joints moving pre- and post-op. The startup made the Poets & Quants “Most Disruptive MBA Startups of 2023” list and was a finalist in Penn’s 2023 Venture Lab Startup Challenge.

Conceptual illustration of animals displaying various emotions such as surprise, sadness and delight, with the emotions written across their bodies.

Catching Eyes in the Attention Economy

New research shows how to use language to capture audience attention, from word choice to building suspense.

Headshots of Jagmeet Lamba and Dudley Brundige.

Juggling multiple vendors can be daunting for a small-business owner. Certa, led by CEO Jagmeet Lamba WG07 and CFO Dudley Brundige WG07, streamlines relationships with third-party vendors, making onboarding up to three times faster. The platform itself can reduce IT labor needs, allowing users to create personalized workflows. The company also has its own AI technology — CertaAssist — that can fill out supplier questionnaires, consolidate intake requests, and create data visualizations. Certa’s clients include Uber, Instacart, and Box, whose executives have reported reduced cycle times and operating costs after using the procurement software.

Wharton Dean Erika James poses wearing a turquoise dress shirt.

United for a Brighter Future

Dean Erika James reflects on opportunities for the Wharton community to come together and lead.

Six people in business clothing gather for a photo in a crowded event space.

On the Scene

From Hong Kong to New York, Wharton alumni unite for Impact Tour gatherings, GOLD events, good music, and more.

Sigo Seguros founders Nestor Hugo Solari and Julio Erdos seated in chairs on a rooftop.

Sigo Seguros

Spanish remains the most widely used language in the U.S. behind English, with an estimated 41 million current speakers. But Hispanic immigrants still face cultural barriers when they arrive in the States. Nestor Hugo Solari G19 WG19 and Júlio Erdos C10 ENG10 G19 WG19 created Sigo Seguros, a bilingual Texas-based car insurance technology company, to better serve this population. “Our differentiated product starts with a deep understanding of our community and its needs,” says Solari. The Spanish-language mobile and web portals, coupled with quick payback periods, are particularly appealing to working-class drivers. The “insurtech” company raised $5.1 million in additional pre-seed funding in 2023.

Collage with headshots of Sam Altman, David Hsu, and Shellye Archambeau.

Supercharge Your Startup

Resources to help you jump-start your venture’s growth

Red, white, and black illustration of a medical professional staring up at a large microscope with cells under the glass.

Cancer can bring your life to a screeching halt. Along with the burden of navigating through new medical terminology and uncertainty, a positive diagnosis can generate feelings of loneliness and isolation. CancerIQ was founded by Feyi Olopade Ayodele W05 WG12 to offer a supportive and more strategic solution for health-care providers working with patients in early cancer detection and prevention. As a software platform, CancerIQ offers hyper-personalized care plans and assesses risks in patients by avoiding the one-size-fits-all approach. The tool focuses on early detection with more precise screening. CancerIQ has been implemented in more than 200 clinic locations across the U.S.

Headshot of Yuval Shmul Shuminer in a white formal jacket.

Every day seems to bring a new way to send, receive, or manage money. Managing cash flow on numerous platforms has become quite onerous, non? Au contraire . Piere, an AI-powered app founded by Yuval Shmul Shuminer W19, analyzes past transactions to create a customized budget in two taps. It’s a peer-to-peer facilitator (for such tasks as getting reimbursed for a group meal) and a spending tracker in one. Since Intuit shut down its popular Mint budgeting app, Piere is reported to be the ideal successor: News outlets have featured the app as part of the “loud budgeting” social media trend, and financial publications highlight it as a valuable tool for monitoring spending.

Portrait of Heidi Block wearing a black Play-PKL shirt and standing in front of her business's apparel.

Heidi Block WG95 and her family first got hooked on pickleball during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when they played the sport together at home in New Jersey to pass the time and stay active. But when Block couldn’t find apparel specifically designed for pickleball, she decided to make her own. Along with her eldest son, Max, she founded Play-PKL, an online retailer selling premium pickleball equipment and stylish outfits for recreational players. The site also offers tips and lessons for beginning pickleballers.

Master Your Digital Body Language

Woman looking at cell phone.

Digital communication can be exhausting. Take Jack, a mid-level manager, who just got an email from his boss. It bugs him — or is he overthinking things? The last sentence — “That’ll be fine.” —  ends in a period. It seems to dominate the screen, a black bead, a micro-bomb, lethal, suggestive and — Jack would swear — disapproving. Boss is angry. But is he really? Did Jack screw up? If so, how? Is he reading into things? If he’s not, how can he work for a boss who’s so oblivious about the implications of a period?

When punctuation and shorthand set us off into bouts of uncertainty, self-doubt, anxiety, anger, self-hatred, and mistrust, we can be sure we’re living in unmapped times.

None of us needs a linguistics degree to know that the ways we communicate meaning today are more confusing than ever. Why? Well, our understanding of body language is almost exclusively informed by face-to-face interactions.

No traditional expert in body language could have predicted that, today, the majority of our communications would be virtual. Contemporary communication relies more than ever on how we say something rather than on what we say. That is, our digital body language. When the internet came along, everyone was given a dais and a microphone, but no one was told how to use them. We all just picked things up as we went along. And the mistakes we’ve made along the way have had real consequences in business.

Each of us has different expectations and instincts about whether we should send a text versus an email, when to call someone, how long to wait before we write someone back, and how to write a digital thank-you or apology without seeming insincere. These seemingly small choices create impressions that can either enhance or wreck our closest relationships.

Most workplaces today minimize the conditions necessary to foster clear communication, leading to widespread distrust, resentment, and frustration. There are more far-flung teams. There are fewer face-to-face interactions. There is virtually no body language to read.

So the question remains: How can we stay connected when a screen divides us?

The answer lies in understanding the cues and signals that we’re sending with our digital body language, and learning to tailor them to create clear, precise messages. What was implicit in traditional body language now has to be explicit with digital body language.

By embedding a real understanding of digital body language into your workplace, communication processes can provide both the structure and the tools that support a silo-breaking, trust-filled environment. This skill, in turn, will lead to enormous efficiencies and a new communication ideal, one where the language and punctuation we use across all mediums is careful, conscious, and considered, and we’re always mindful of how our recipients might respond.

Below are three examples of basic digital body language signals and cues we send out every day that you can learn to employ and perfect in your own life:

The Medium Is the Message

All communication channels are not created equal. Knowing how and when to use each one depends on the context. Every channel brings with it a set of underlying meanings and subtexts, and knowing how to navigate this array of hidden meanings is a telltale mark of digital savviness and — ultimately — professionalism.

If you’re stuck, ask yourself: How important or urgent is your message? And to whom are you communicating? What’s better: email, Slack, the phone, or a text?

And remember: You’re not bound to one or two communication channels. Switching between channels is a good way to indicate a shift in urgency, or even to denote the closeness of a relationship.

Punctuation and Symbols — the New Measure of Emotion

In our digital world, our screens filter out the non-verbal signals and cues that make up 60 to 80 percent of face-to-face communication, forcing us to adapt the emotional logic of computers. We’re rendered cue-less.

By way of compensation, our communication style relies on punctuation for impact. In an effort to infuse our texts with tone and to clarify our feelings, we might use exclamation marks, capital letters, or ellipses, or else hit the “like” or “love” button on messages we receive. But instead of clarity, sometimes our reliance on punctuation and symbols can generate more confusion.

My advice when it comes to punctuation and symbols: Use them judiciously. If you’re worried about your digital tone, one way to clarify your feelings digitally is through the direct, easy-to-understand language of emojis. While emojis may be a learning curve for some, they can be critical to enhancing workplace efficiency and cultivating a corporate culture of optimal clarity.

Timing — the New Measure of Respect

Face-to-face interactions require that both parties be available at the same time. This is less possible today, with most of us scrambling to keep up with our various inboxes.

This often means that communication happens at a slower pace. And in a digitally reliant world, the slightest pause between messages takes on an almost operatic meaning.

The thing is, most of the time, a non-answer means nothing at all; the other person is simply tied up, doing something else, didn’t notice she’d gotten a text, had her volume turned off, or forgot where she put her phone.

Still, we can always help ease anxieties around timing expectations by encouraging communication norms and best practices for your office. For example, leaders can mandate a response time for email — within the hour, particularly if it’s time-sensitive or client-facing — to ensure team-wide accountability.

With hardly any face-to-face interactions with colleagues or classmates these days, there is virtually no body language to read. Understanding digital body language is essential for those of us who are committed to making strong relationships and making a mark, even in the swell of conference calls, emails, texts, and Zoom engagements. Not only can it enhance your interpersonal interactions and liberate you from the fear and worry that digital communication inspires, but it can give you a competitive advantage on your team, grounded in transparency and empathy.

Erica Dhawan W07  is a leading expert on 21st century collaboration and innovation. She is an  award-winning keynote speaker and the author of the new book Digital Body Language .

digital body language essay

Advice for Aspiring Writers From Two Wharton Alumnae Authors

Sandra Shpilberg WG02 and Erica Dhawan W07 shared universal tips for drafting a book and insights on the publishing process.

Open book on top of a laptop

Alumni Book Roundup: Spring 2021

Stories of perseverance and self-discovery, guides to improve business practices, resources for one's personal life, and more from Wharton authors

Thank you note

Leveraging Gratitude in a Post-Pandemic World

Finding silver linings of work life during the current crisis could reinvigorate teams when they return to the office, writes Nancy Davis Kho W88, author of The Thank-You Project.

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Executive talent, digital magazine from aesc, communicating in the new normal: digital body language with erica dhawan.

Digital Body Language, Eric Dhawan

“Digital tools that got little traction for years are now business requirements, not only for productivity, but also for client engagement, business development, even social connection and celebration. The question we have to ask ourselves is no longer how will we adapt to our new normal, but more importantly, how will we create a better normal?”

Erica Dhawan , AESC Virtual Conference. May 12, 2021

Erica Dhawan is an award-winning speaker, author and student of innovation and collaboration who spoke about digital body language, why it matters and how to use it to master sales and engagement at the 2021 AESC Virtual Conference, “Thriving in the Next Normal.”

A New Language Barrier

In a recent study of over 3000 office workers Dhawan found that the average employee is wasting up to four hours per week on poor, unclear or confusing digital communication. If roughly three-fourths of face-to-face communication is nonverbal body language, what are we missing when we are no longer communicating face to face? When we are engaging with people on screen, Dhawan said, “We can't just sense if someone's on the verge of tears or really excited; we can't read the ‘lean in,’ in a sales conversation with a client, the way we used to.” Communicating digitally – through email, via text, on screen or by using digital collaboration tools requires that leaders and colleagues reimagine collaboration, trust and engagement.

A New Skill Set

In order to communicate effectively and build a level of connection and trust no matter the distance, Dhawan argued that we need to build a critical skill called digital body language. “Digital body language is the cues and signals we send in our digital communication that make up the subtext of our messages.”

In her keynote, Dhawan presented five key principles of digital body language to mitigate the weaknesses and leverage the benefits of the way we communicate in the digital age.

1. BREVITY CREATES CONFUSION The pressure to communicate quickly can often cause us to take shortcuts, skip critical details, and sometimes leave out context altogether.

Dhawan illustrated the point with an anecdote about a leader who sent a no-subject calendar invitation to a colleague who had recently heard about budget cuts. Because there was no subject line in the meeting request, the colleague thought he was about to get fired when the leader only wanted to talk about a client project. The lesson: never confuse a brief message with a clear message.

In another illustration, a chief marketing officer was working with one of her service providers reviewing a deck they prepared for her, and she said ‘let's iterate on this topic a bit more.’ That team went back and spent about 10 hours creating five new slides. When she got back to them and said, ‘I actually just wanted two more bullet points,’ imagine how de-motivated the team felt. Dhawan explained, “We have to understand that brevity creates confusion, that we must choose to be clear, not brief, even when we feel rushed to be fast in a digital world.”

"Communicating digitally – through email, via text, on screen or by using digital collaboration tools requires that leaders and colleagues reimagine collaboration, trust and engagement. " Erica Dhawan

2. COMMUNICATE YOUR MIND. In all of our messages we have to make certain we are clear about our intentions and our expectations: what is the ask? What is the priority level? Why do you and others need this information? Dhawan described some of her clients’ highly efficient email acronyms. WINFY means ‘what I need from you,’ and senders are required to answer that question at the top of the message. Other acronyms indicate required response times. For example, 2H means ‘I need this in two hours.’ 4D means ‘I need this in four days.’ NNTR means ‘no need to respond.’

“We have to bring nuance back because body language is transformed, online,” Dhawan said.

Consider this: Does a word in upper case connote excitement? Urgency? Anger? Is a period at the end of a text message passive-aggressive, or just good grammar? Are multiple question marks friendly, or accusatory? “This is the brave new world we're in,” Dhawan said.

3. HOLD YOUR HORSES. The pressure to communicate fast often rewards the first people to respond to an email or the quickest person to jump in on a zoom call, instead of what might be the most thoughtful idea. Dhawan explained, “When we just reward the first person who responds or the three people who agree, we may miss out on the fourth person who disagrees. When certain people over-talk in video calls, we may not hear from someone who has a different perspective.” Hold your horses means being intentional about showing good digital body language.

Being intentional can be as simple as sending an agenda or questions in advance, to give introverts time to process ideas before a meeting. Calling on people according to a set order ensures everyone has an opportunity to speak, not just the most vocal or confident team members. Dhawan advised, “Holding our horses will allow us to choose thoughtfulness over hastiness.”

4. ASSUME THE BEST INTENT. So much is lost in digital communication, it is easy to misread, misunderstand, jump to conclusions, and assume the worst. Dhawan cautioned, “We are tone deaf. We need to become tone deft in a digital world.” Dhawan’s tips to avoid imagining and reacting to slights that aren’t there include:

digital body language essay

  • Check your interpretations before responding.
  • Always give others the benefit of the doubt.
  • Choose positive intentions.
  • Know when to pick up the phone.
  • Don't get emotionally hijacked.
  • Don't respond with passive aggressiveness.
  • Sleep on it

“These simple things can go a long way in creating that culture of empathy, respect, connection, and frankly sales in our modern world.” Dhawan said.

5. FIND YOUR VOICE. Finding your voice means knowing whether you, your leaders, your team members, and your clients are introverts or extroverts, digital natives or digital adapters. It means understanding different cultural norms. This understanding can improve how you work with others, and help you resist the impact of any implicit bias. For example:

  • Introverts prefer time to think. Send agendas and questions in advance. Don't interrupt their speaking. Consider a set speaking order. Create downtime between meetings.
  • Extroverts like their airtime so know how to give it to them, but manage it: have breakout rooms, use working sessions, use virtual whiteboards. If extroverts can write their ideas before they speak, it helps them become more concise.
  • Digital natives thrive in text shorthand. They hate voicemail, but they may send a voice note. They don't like phone calls out of the blue.
  • Digital adapters prefer phone and in person communication. They may be more reluctant with new tech. They prefer higher quality, less frequent messages.
  • In traditionally Eastern cultures much more formal digital body language is the norm, including more context, greeting people and exchanging niceties before asking for something.
  • In more traditionally Western cultures people are much more direct and to the point.

Cultivating the essential skill of digital body language requires learning to use what is authentic to ourselves, but also understanding how to connect with the digital body language of others. How to determine the preferred language of others? “Sometimes that requires simply asking them,” Dhawan said.

“We have different preferences and setting some clear hybrid collaboration norms is incredibly important right now.”

Tips for refining your digital body language:

  • Know when to pick up the phone. Dhawan said, “I'm such a fan of the lost art of the phone call and how it can solve problems that are wasting us so much time in texts, email, chat tools, slack tools, you name it.”
  • Make your meetings accessible through closed captioning to alleviate hearing and language barriers, or record meetings so people can listen again or read a transcript.
  • Send quick recap emails summarizing the key points and insights and confirming next steps within 30 minutes of a meeting. For Dhawan, “It’s like the new, virtual handshake.”
  • Activate what's been best about our digital world to make meetings even better, for example by having an existing client briefly join a sales pitch to a prospective client or showing short videos to enhance an on-screen meeting.
  • And when you are in that face-to-face meeting? Put your phone on do not disturb, so you’re not looking down at your screen when someone is trying to make eye contact with you.

The way we communicate has been transformed into a lexicon we are only beginning to understand. In her recently published book Digital Body Language Dhawan offers a lively and accessible guide to navigating the new reality of communication and developing the critical skills for building trust and connection in the digital world.

Digital Body Language is available at www.dblbook.com and booksellers worldwide.

digital body language essay

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More Connected

Erica Dhawan: Using digital body language to build trust on your remote team

By Drew Pearce

Published on December 14, 2021

Animation by Fanny Luor

How emojis, memes, and terse DMs play out at work—in intentional and unintentional ways.

Photo of author Erica Dhawan

If you’ve ever seen a punctuation mark turn a text chat into a tense standoff, you already know the impact of digital body language.

When you can’t talk face to face, you miss out on the frowns, smiles, and raised eyebrows that can offer important context behind words—stress, joy, even irony. Emojis and memes can lighten the tone, but they can’t convey the subtle emotional cues you sense in someone’s presence. 

So how do you humanize virtual communication without adding misunderstandings?

Video calls and chat apps have helped, but as pandemic isolation wears on, their limitations have been laid bare. Now we know how hard it can be to brainstorm and establish rapport virtually, especially as more people start new jobs without getting to meet their teammates in person. 

On the upside, distributed work has opened new doors of opportunity for those who live far from big cities and tech hubs. And new tools like Dropbox Capture combine the advantages of synchronous and asynchronous by letting you send personalized video messages instead of text.

On the downside, distance isn’t the only barrier. Generational and personality differences can widen communication gaps. When you add the anxiety of a global pandemic to the mix, it can feel like learning a new language in a culture that never existed before.  

Fortunately, Erica Dhawan—author of Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance —has been studying ways to overcome cultural divides and language barriers for years. In fact, it’s been her passion since she was a child. Growing up in a family of Indian immigrants in Pittsburgh, she became fascinated with how people from different backgrounds create authentic connections. 

“It’s up to managers to create a cohesive team that creates spaces for different communication styles.”

In the years since, it’s become her life’s work—first as a research fellow at Harvard and MIT, and later as a world-renowned expert on teamwork in the 21st century. In her latest book , she provides a practical guide to communicating effectively in the era of digital work.

“Every few months, things seem to get faster, leaving us no choice but to adapt to the newest normal,” says Dhawan. “We grow more accepting of distractions and interruptions, become more indifferent to the needs and emotions of colleagues and workmates.”

This digital disconnect leads to misinterpretation and new waves of organizational dysfunction—and one of the most overlooked reasons is the loss of nonverbal body cues. With more physical distance, fewer face-to-face interactions, and virtually no body language, it’s harder than ever to read emotions. It’s not that people don't want to be empathetic—they just don't know how to be with today's tools. 

But with the proper use of digital body language—which includes not only your words, punctuation, emojis, and avatars, but also the channels you choose—you can learn to build trust with your teammates even when you’re working remotely.

Which principle of digital body language is the biggest challenge for remote teams?

The first principle of digital body language is one of the most critical: Never confuse a brief message with a clear message. Receiving an email from your boss that simply reads “We should talk,” could have multiple interpretations. One-word responses like “Fine,” “Sure,” or “O.K.” can also cause uncertainty. 

Sending multiple question marks (???) instead of asking your team an actual question doesn’t clarify the information to either party. The recipient could jump to negative conclusions. But in fact, a boss may just want to discuss a proposal they turned in last week. 

“Never confuse a brief message with a clear message.” 

If you’re a manager, here are three questions to ask yourself to create a culture of clarity instead of brevity with your teammates:

  • Am I clear enough about what I need? Always take a moment to provide the necessary background required for the recipient.
  • Did I include the right people in the email? Is it clear why this message is meaningful to this person or group of people? It’s easy to be so brief that others don’t understand why they need to respond.
  • Am I intentional about when and what I expect in response? Make sure you are giving your team an appropriate and precise time when you expect an email back. 

One of my favorite ways to avoid brevity creating confusion is to create clear acronyms for your team. For example, NNTR on emails means “No Need to Respond,” 4H in subject lines means I need this in 4 hours, and 2D means I need it in 2 days. Even if it takes you a few extra minutes, spend the time communicating with the intention of being ultra-clear.

Brevity can also cause anxiety when there may not even be a need to worry. While a brief email may be convenient for you, it can have a negative effect on the person receiving it. And it can cause your team to waste time interpreting your messages instead of focusing on the task at hand. When there is clarity in communication, this also improves productivity and accountability because there is less room for misinterpretation.

You’ve noted that most people fall into two categories: Digital Natives, the Gen Zers who grew up fluent in non-verbal virtual communication—and Digital Adapters, the Gen Xers and Boomers who are learning emojis, memes, and texting etiquette like a new language. What tips do you have for bridging the communication gap between those two groups?

Good leadership is about more than bending people to your standards or norms. It also involves a willingness to engage across the different digital body language styles present in your workplace. It’s actually no different from knowing three or four different languages or regional dialects.

When establishing policies to bridge the communication gap, ensure you gather feedback from digital natives and adapters. Then, focus on norms that best serve the task at hand. Set norms for the appropriate time to use each channel of communication, message length, complexity, and response time. Questions that should be answered include:

  • “How long is too long for an IM message?”
  • “Do we want to put a limit on the number of people to include in a group video call?” 
  • “What should meeting agendas look like?”
  • “When (if ever) is it appropriate to text someone?”
  • “What is the expected response time for emails?”

It’s also essential to have team champions who hold people accountable when practicing these norms and even have a polite correction method if they are not being met.

Last, despite all policies, get comfortable with being uncomfortable when it matters. For example, Brad, the SVP at a large gaming company and a digital adapter, has observed a stark difference in the two Slack channels run by his leaders, Allie and Dave. Dave, a digital native, has a Slack channel filled with emojis, GIFs, and memes, whereas Allie, who is a mid-forties digital adapter, has a more formal writing style, complete with bullet points.

“With Allie’s Slack channel,” Brad says, “I’m at home.” Nonetheless, he soon came around to the way Dave saw the world. “He is so authentic. If I were to force him to be ‘corporate,’ his team would be less excited and engaged.” He adds, “I’ve learned that the best thing for me to do is try to become conversant in this ‘dialect,’ even if it’s uncomfortable.”

“Gather feedback from digital natives and adapters. Then, focus on norms that best serve the task at hand.”

Building communication guidelines is a smart decision. However, pausing for a second before you decide to adjust how someone on your team is communicating and taking a moment to consider how that person’s style might end up benefiting your team is also just as important.

Virtual onboarding has proven to be one of the best opportunities for establishing norms and expectations around digital body language. What tips do you have for managers and coworkers who want to create camaraderie with new team members?

My first tip is to migrate from phony to authentic communication. If someone is new to your team, type them a welcome message on their first day. Let them genuinely know how happy you are that they are here and how excited you are to work with them. 

My second tip is to engage in digital watercooler moments. Research shows that when we transition to remote work, what we miss most are the social, relationship-building activities that take place spontaneously, like when we walk by someone’s desk and say hello, converge in the breakroom to discuss our latest Netflix binge, or ask a distracted colleague if he’s okay. These “watercooler interactions” are essential ingredients for building camaraderie, morale, and trust. They also keep us in the loop around what’s really going on in an organization. 

So, without an actual watercooler, what are you supposed to do? The answer: create the time just to hang out and check-in together. It doesn’t have to be a strictly planned social gathering; five to ten minutes at the beginning of a team meeting will do. Your team should feel comfortable acknowledging the obvious fact that they have lives outside work. 

One team member of an entirely remote team once told me, “Every morning we start with Zoom all-hands meetings—what did you do yesterday/what about today/do you have any blockers? We also do another at the end of the day—what worked? What didn’t? What did we try? It’s a great way to celebrate our successes, share challenges, and create boundaries.” 

My third tip is to record your previous team Zoom calls so new team members can watch recordings before joining their first meeting. This is a priceless way to speed up knowledge sharing, as well as help new team members learn the varying communication styles and norms of your virtual and hybrid meetings.

Do you have any specific tips for new employees trying to connect with their coworkers?

If you’re the new person on the team, do some due diligence. Take some time to see your teammates’ work. Then, when it’s time to reach out, you can lead with specific details to let them know you’re familiar with their role and how they contribute to the team while recognizing their efforts and hard work from the first interaction. Then, go forward from there. With every scrap of detail, you begin to develop trust. 

First, understand what drives your boss's pet peeves. Managing up is about knowing what completely irritates your boss. Does she cringe at grammar mistakes? Does it irrationally annoy him when people send overly long emails? A lack of agendas for video calls?

Second, ask your manager and teammates about their preferred digital communication style, based on the complexity and urgency of information. For example, does your boss prefer to receive long emails covering many topics or individual emails for individual topics? Does your team prefer to be kept in the loop on everything you're working on (e.g., with daily or weekly update emails), or are they more hands-off? What topics are best to discuss on a video call versus in an email? When is it acceptable to make a quick phone call to a colleague?

Third, reimagine what it means to "arrive early" and "stay late" at work. You won't earn bonus points for showing up early to the morning huddle on Zoom in a digital workplace. You'll just be in the waiting room instead of chatting with colleagues as you would in the office.

Instead, send an email (or Slack message) to your team outlining your plan of action for the day and ask if there's anything you can do to help senior team members by taking work off their plate. If there are client calls you can't attend, ask if they can be recorded so you can learn and take notes afterward. Towards the end of your workday, reply to that same message with an update on your projects. Make a point to ask if there's anything else you can help with before the morning.

Communication, specifically via digital mediums, is no longer a 'soft skill'—it is the new power skill that will define your success as a new hire.

Do certain personality types have an easier or harder time adapting to digital body language?

With less social interaction and more opportunities for autonomy, the chances are that introverts have enjoyed working remotely and asynchronously over the past year-plus. On the other hand, extroverts may have found themselves to be less productive and more irritable at home, struggling to recreate external stimuli they are used to having in the office to motivate them.

I don’t believe that one personality type—introverts, extroverts, or even ambiverts—uses digital body language better than another. However, I do believe that each personality prefers different digital mediums to express their digital body language.For example, many introverts have shared with me that they thrive using the chat tool in a video call, where they can avoid turn-taking and think in writing first before speaking. They also benefit from a thoughtful agenda before meetings to prepare their thoughts in advance. 

Extroverts need airtime and may express themselves more effectively in a quick video meeting. Extroverts also benefit from spontaneous moments of social connection during the day through hybrid team bonding events such as Zoom lunches and happy hours. 

“Communication, specifically via digital mediums, is no longer a ‘soft skill’— it is the new power skill that will define your success as a new hire.”

It’s up to managers to create a cohesive team that creates spaces for different communication styles so that everyone can communicate in their authentic voice in the digital workplace. Regardless of where team members fall on the extroversion-introversion spectrum, the overnight switch to virtual work over a year ago forced all of us to adjust to uncomfortable circumstances. I hope that the tips above will make us stronger and more inclusive of all personalities in the workplace.

Which digital communication tools do you rely on every day? 

I rely on video calls, Slack, email, and sometimes text messaging. I consciously choose the appropriate communication medium based on whom I’m connecting with and what I’m connecting about. For example, my college interns communicate best on Slack and enjoy emailed Amazon gift cards at the end of their tenures, while my executive team sticks to emails and appreciates personalized notes.

Video calls are beneficial for kicking off and calibrating projects and establishing what success looks like for initiatives, teams, and individuals. Instant messaging platforms and email are beneficial for day-to-day communications. I use text messaging with a receiver’s permission if anything urgent comes up.What’s missing from current remote collaboration tools that could enhance clarity in our digital body language?

I’d argue we need better playbooks for the ideal behaviors we should model when using remote collaboration tools. With many different platforms available, it’s easy to schedule meetings that should be emails, Slacks that should be phone calls, and confuse the period at the end of a text as passive aggressive. 

What’s the most surprising lesson you’ve learned about digital communication during the pandemic? 

Initially, I insisted on framing digital body language as a mere complement to traditional, everyday body language. I was wrong. Physical body language and digital body language are inseparable. Digital body language is reshaping physical body language, verbal communication, and even the way we think.

Online and off, at our jobs or home, our phones have altered how we make eye contact. We sometimes find ourselves thinking in terms of hashtags or bullet points. We can miss the lean-in in a sales conversation in a hybrid meeting. Our level of impatience has gone up. We expect others to get to the point fast. And nowhere is this transformation more apparent than in the workplace. 

It has taught me that more than ever, what was implicit in our traditional body language must be explicit in digital body language. Like immigrants in a foreign country, we are all immigrants to the digital workplace and must become fluent in digital body language together.

To learn more, visit EricaDhawan.com and follow her on Linkedin , Instagram , Facebook , and Twitter .

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Digital body language for the post-pandemic era

Erica Dhawan, MBA ’12

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Erica Dhawan, MBA ’12

The awkward pause on a Zoom call. The brusque, ambiguous email. The context-free meeting invite. When online interactions are so easily misconstrued, effective communication is essential. As the author of the new book Digital Body Language , Erica Dhawan, MBA ’12, trains corporate leaders to connect fluently in this new era of remote work, with clients ranging from the US Army to Pepsi to Deloitte.  

Her mission is deeply personal, rooted in her memories of being a timid elementary schooler in Pittsburgh. 

“My parents were Indian immigrants, which meant that we spoke Hindi at home. When I got to school, I was the quietest kid in the class,” she remembers. “One of the strengths I developed because I was so shy was an ability to observe and decipher body language. I would watch the popular girls with their head tilted to the side, the cool kids slouching during school assemblies. I really tried to assimilate to the world of American body language.”

Fast-forward 30 years, and she’s using that hard-won intuition to decode a digital-first world where visual and written cues matter more than ever. In addition to her writing, she delivers keynotes to Fortune 500 companies—for the past five years, at a rate of 40 to 70 talks per year.  

“We’re all immigrants to the world of digital body language,” she says. “I’m committed to building a movement of knowledge and training for what I believe are the skills of the new post-pandemic era.”

Those skills hinge on what she calls connectional intelligence. The concept, which prioritizes deep, quality interactions, contrasts sharply with typical measures of virtual success: number of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, or Zoom meetings per day.

“We’re living in a digital communications crisis, where the reaction is to connect more instead of connecting intelligently,” she says. People with connectional intelligence understand which meetings should be calls, and when to look directly at the camera during a Zoom to signal attention: “They know to never confuse brevity with clarity, that reading carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy.” 

New ways of working prompted by the pandemic, she believes, could allow workplaces to become “more geographically inclusive, less visually biased toward traditional body language, and more creative about engaging anyone, anywhere, to be part of a solution.” 

Dhawan has two children and enjoys Bollywood dance in her spare time. Dancing, she says with a laugh, “taught me that when we’re connecting with others, everything is a performance.”

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Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection No Matter the Distance

Erica dhawan. st. martin’s, $28.99 (288p) isbn 978-1-250-24652-3.

digital body language essay

Reviewed on: 02/17/2021

Genre: Nonfiction

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How digital body language is changing our relationships

The internet has made it easier than ever to contact our friends and loved ones – but has the rise of texting made it harder for us to truly communicate.

I love voice notes: those half-hour messages allow me to stay connected to my friends’ daily lives, sharing dramas, brainstorming gym routines, ranting about our colleagues, all while doing a food shop. We’re not alone: WhatsApp reported a staggering 7 billion voice notes exchanged daily in 2023.

We enjoy this flexibility because in today’s fast-paced world, our schedules are increasingly packed and attention spans are increasingly fried, making synchronous communication – conversations happening in the moment, with back-and-forth exchange – more challenging. But there’s a catch. While voice notes and texts can be fun and easy, they can also be a breeding ground for misunderstandings. This is because online communication relies heavily on ‘digital body language’ – the emojis, punctuation, and response time that colour our messages and influence how we perceive them.

Shanin Blake E-girl

Digital body language might seem like a new phenomenon, but Steve Fuller, Professor of Social Epistemology at the University of Warwick , explains that even love letters in the past relied on deciphering hidden meaning. Throughout history, we’ve always sought meaning beyond our words in messages. Today, this continues online through the nuances of text speak. According to him, our online behaviour today can be traced back to Facebook’s thumbs-up button. This simple symbol, universally understood to signal approval, ushered in an era where we express our feelings – towards content, people, or situations – through a single, unambiguous emoji.

“Nowadays digital body language is associated with the increased use of emojis, which present stylised versions of various emotional responses,” he explains. “Emojis may seem to make communication more direct, in fact research increasingly shows that they complicate matters.”

This lack of context and tendency to overanalyse can have real-life consequences. I made this painful discovery last year during a serious conversation with my ex-boyfriend about our messaging habits. We’d exchanged voice notes back and forth, but the very convenience that drew me to them – multitasking – got me into trouble. Unlike a face-to-face conversation where you’re fully present, I’d often listen to his voice notes while doing other things, leading to a delayed or distracted response. This, to him, felt rude, dismissive, and like I was abruptly ending conversations. On the flipside, I found his use of the slightly-smiling-face emoji to be more passive-aggressive and sarcastic.

@the_d_spot Think before you text #texting #single #datingadvice #datingtipsformen #greenscreen ♬ original sound - The D Spot

Looking back, the entire situation seems ridiculous and so childish, but it was no joke at the time. As we spend so much time online, our digital body language becomes deeply engrained in our online interactions, impacting our relationships with our closest people. This wasn’t an isolated incident for me either: one friend felt I was withdrawing from her because I hadn’t sent her a rambling voice note in a week, even though I’d been sending them to a mutual friend of ours. This pressure to maintain a certain level of online engagement felt a lot like digital presenteeism – the only logical solution seemed to be to send her more voice notes, even if they weren’t particularly meaningful, just to avoid appearing distant.

So, why is our digital body language such a minefield for misunderstandings? Unlike in-person communication where we have a wealth of cues to draw from, online interactions are a lot barer. Facial expressions, body language, and real-time responses are all missing. This makes communication asynchronous, relying heavily on deciphering the written word and emojis.

Counsellor Georgina Starmer highlights both the benefits and drawbacks of this asynchronous nature. “Some of this can be helpful if we are feeling anxious or insecure about what we have to say,” she says. “We have the opportunity to edit our words and ask someone else to review them. We have the chance to read the words we receive in our own time and at our own pace.”

However, Starmer cautions that online communication doesn’t always reflect our true personalities. Unlike face-to-face interactions where playful “throwaway comments” and sarcasm can be conveyed through tone and body language, texting lacks this. These lighthearted remarks can be misinterpreted in a text, “we might read them over and over again, and analyse their meaning, and experience them in a painful way.”

“I look out for a few things: if a guy takes ages to reply, like more than a day, he hates me, and he’s not interested” – Alicia*

This emphasis on analysing every word can fuel the pressure to stay connected through messaging. Data from Hinge highlights how we’re increasingly preoccupied with the way our partners communicate over text: 56 per cent of Hinge daters admit they’ve overanalysed someone’s digital body language, while Gen Z Hinge daters are 50 per cent more likely than Millennials to delay responding to a text to avoid seeming “overeager”.

This aligns with 23-year-old Alicia’s* experience. “I look out for a few things: if a guy takes ages to reply, like more than a day, he hates me, and he’s not interested,” she says. She also sees full stops as a sign of annoyance, and lengthy messages as a red flag for excessive eagerness.  Shreya, 28, shares similar concerns, adding that closed answers signal a lack of interest in continuing the conversation.

It’s a constant balancing act, trying to appear engaged without seeming desperate. These anxieties create a vicious cycle – the fear of rejection makes us hyper-aware of digital body language cues, and this very awareness can lead us to send confusing signals ourselves, perpetuating the cycle further.

The pressure extends beyond dating to friendships as well. Emmanuel, 23, for instance, takes his time crafting messages when he has something serious or important to say. If he’s trying to resolve conflict over text, he adds a laughing emoji to soften the directness, fearing his message might be misread as angry. This again highlights how we not only read into certain cues but also adjust our communication style based on those interpretations.

But we can break free from this cycle. In today’s digital age, navigating online interactions requires the same intentionality as building real-life relationships. Setting clear boundaries and expectations around response times and emotional availability in our digital communication can help us navigate this landscape more effectively.

We need to keep the lines of communication clear between our friends, family and dates; making sure we’re having open discussions about preferred communication styles and response timeframes. This can help us dismantle ambiguity and create a more mindful digital space for ourselves. Ultimately, navigating digital body language effectively is about striking a balance – acknowledging its influence while explaining ourselves in conversations to avoid hurting each other’s feelings.

*Name has been changed

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digital body language essay

digital body language essay

Read People, Online.

Ghosting. Video chats full of “oops sorry no you go” and “can you hear me?!” Ambiguous text-messages. Weird punctuation you can’t make heads or tails of. How did we lose our innate capacity to understand each other?

Erica Dhawan Digital Body Language Hard Cover


Erica Dhawan is a globally recognized leadership expert and keynote speaker helping organizations and leaders innovate faster and further, together. Erica has spoken, worldwide, to organizations and enterprises that range from the World Economic Forum to U.S. and global Fortune 500 companies, associations, sports teams, and government institutions. Named as one of the top management professionals around the world by Global Gurus, she is the founder and CEO of Cotential – a company that has helped leaders and teams leverage twenty-first-century collaboration skills globally. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. She has an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, MBA from MIT Sloan, and BS from The Wharton School.

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Digital Body Language – How Digital Communication Works

digital body language

“Digital body language” is a concept that is becoming increasingly important in the modern working world – especially now that many of us are working remotely. After all, everyday communication now takes place almost exclusively digitally.

A large part of physical body language occurs automatically – its reflexive and instinctive, and unintentional. Similarly, a lot of how we interpret another person’s physical social cues happens in our subconscious – we recognize that, for example, crossed arms means someone is closed off or upset; we understand this without even being conscious of this understanding.

That said, we’re not merely reduced to our animal instincts: you can learn to consciously control and channel your body language to improve your communication. Furthermore, this applies to both physical and digital body language.

Improve your workforce’s communication with digital language training – Contact Speexx to learn more.

What is digital body language?

Digital body language is body language invisible at first glance, that you use in the digital space when you communicate via email, messenger, chat, or conference call. The way in which you communicate digitally says a lot about you, your attitude, your intentions and expectations.

However, digital body language is more difficult to grasp and interpret than physical body language, which inevitably leads to misunderstandings. For effective communication in the workplace, it’s important to learn how to control your own digital body language and correctly interpret that of others.

Digital body language in the new normal

In the new normal , digital-only communication is seen increasingly as a daily occurrence where most misunderstandings can occur. Tiny, barely noticeable reactions often reveal what you think about something without you having to express it verbally. Approval, rejection, uncertainty, joy, anger, surprise, and so much more is revealed by your body language to your counterpart.

But body language – as the name suggests – is physical and therefore not easily transferable to the digital world, where physicality takes a back seat. Nevertheless, it’s not as if you’re not revealing anything about yourself here – quite the opposite.

Even in the new normal, you are constantly sending out signals. Often, however, these signals do not match your intentions, and even more often they are misinterpreted by those on the other end of the call.

understand your digital body language

Challenges of digital body language

In her recently published book, “ Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance ”, author, speaker, and expert in the field of communication, Erica Dhawan , clearly explains what constitutes digital body language and how you can both manage and improve it.

Using practical examples from her everyday work as a consultant for large companies, Dhawan shows how delicate the topic of digital body language still is, because as digitization advances, the misunderstandings that can arise through digital communication also increase.

Situations we are all familiar with one way or another; an email is misinterpreted, causing worry, prejudice and the feeling of rejection. All of these negative emotions could have been prevented if the author of the email was more aware of their own digital body language and how to correctly express themselves digitally.

Digital body language in the workplace

In the modern working world, with hybrid work models and ever-faster digitization, optimal digital body language is more important than ever. Whether among colleagues, in contact with customers, or in training sessions – digitalization has made how you say something increasingly important. It’s almost more important than what you actually say.

The how conveys an impression about your attitude. Short and concise comes across as unfriendly, too long and detailed is time-consuming and pretentious. Excessive use of smileys and emoticons comes across as insecure, and so on.

Internal communication within a company faces a particular challenge when it comes to digital body language. Cross-team collaboration and digital communication among colleagues who otherwise don’t have much to do with each other is particularly prone to misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

The 4 laws of digital body language

To better understand the challenges and opportunities of modern communication, Erica Dhawan defines the 4 Laws of digital body language:

1. Value visibly

Where an approving nod or a thanking smile is not possible, appreciation must be expressed in a different way. For example, via a like or a comment in the chat window of a call. Take the time to read emails carefully and calmly, and always respond with a brief reply. Actively communicate, this strengthens trust and respect.

2. Communicate carefully

Misunderstandings are often more difficult to resolve than in the moment when they could have been avoided. It’s worthwhile for all parties involved to communicate carefully and to be particularly attentive with the choice of words and the manner of communication. Express yourself as clearly as possible to minimize the risk of being misunderstood.

3. Collaborate confidently

The modern working world stirs up fear, insecurity and worry. Overcoming these to be able to make decisions with a healthy self-confidence is the third law of digital body language. Don’t question everything over and over again. Trust that your team will understand and respect your decisions.

4. Trust totally

The fourth law can only come into effect if the previous three laws are respected. Believe in your team, 100%. In an openly structured team, you can rely on every single member to tell the truth, keep their word, and do their jobs – without you having to control everything.

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5 core elements of good digital body language

In addition to the 4 laws of digital body language just mentioned, Erica Dhawan also lists 5 core strategies for good digital body language. She explains in this YouTube video what you should pay attention to in order to avoid misunderstandings and position yourself positively.

1. Brevity creates confusion

Don’t underestimate the coldness that short, succinct communication conveys online. One-syllable responses come across as dismissive, and while you may think you’re doing everyone a favor with a one-line email because you’re not holding up their attention for long, it’s likely that you’ll come across as unfriendly and more likely to cause confusion.

Everything doesn’t always need to be elaborate and long, but if you do keep it short, make sure it’s a few friendly words you send. Find a balance between one-syllable and mile-long to avoid misunderstandings or frustration.

2. “Communicate your mind” mindset

In the digital world, your counterpart can know even less about what you’re like in the real world. That’s why it’s even more important that you express yourself clearly. Whether composing an email, holding a presentation, in a meeting, or in a chat, always take the time to say (or write) exactly what you want your counterpart to know.

3. Hold your horses

You certainly have that one colleague who is always the first to respond to an email. That one person who always and immediately has an answer ready and always seems to be one step ahead of everyone else – even if these quick answers often later turn out to be wrong or at least not quite accurate.

For good digital body language, it is essential to think through your communication well and take the time to give a well-informed and concise response. It’s not about speed, it’s about quality, and the benefits you gain greatly when you take time to think before you speak.

4. Assume the best intent

In the modern working world nowadays, you often see your colleagues – if at all – via webcam. This makes it much easier for misunderstandings to occur than if you can look your counterpart in the face in order to better understand a conversation.

Erica Dhawan stresses that in the digital world (even more so than in the “real” one) it is always worthwhile to assume that the other person has only the best intentions in mind. Interpretations and assumptions only lead to misunderstandings. Just as you should communicate as openly and transparently as possible, you should also assume that your conversation partners do the same.

Refrain from interpretations and if you have doubts, then ask more questions to get some reassurance. By the way, this is usually best done by telephone. A direct conversation always helps to clear up misunderstandings quickly.

5. Find your voice

Ultimately, it’s entirely up to you how you want to be perceived. One advantage of digital body language is that you can influence and control it much more than your physical body language.

That’s why it’s important to take a close look at your virtual self and your digital behavior. This also helps you to understand why your colleagues react to you the way they do and offers a wonderful opportunity to learn something about yourself.

how digital communication works

Digital body language in virtual classrooms

In her Masterclass Webinar , Jo Cook , speaker and facilitator, specializing in virtual classrooms, webinars and live online learning technology, also addressed the topic of digital body language.

For Jo Cook, it is particularly important not to try to “read” the body language of participants via a webcam in a virtual classroom, the same way it would be possible in a physical classroom. Firstly, because there are many good reasons not to turn on the webcam , and secondly, because physical body language in a virtual classroom is incoherent and therefore misleading.

In a virtual classroom , there should be room for the digital body language of everyone present, with or without a webcam. Interaction and the manner of active participation can help interpret a person’s digital body language.

Check out the recording of the webinar here .

Digital body language and Speexx

At Speexx, we place great emphasis on providing our customers and their employees with the optimal solution for continuing education within the company. Our coaches undergo in-depth training to provide your learners with the best advice and guide them to optimal learning success.

Speexx offers 1:1 coaching, advanced AI, personalized content, virtual classroom sessions, 24/7 support for your learners, and the best tools for analytics and progress tracking. All 100% digital, all with your individual needs in mind.

For over 15 years, we at Speexx have been working to make corporate digital training as accessible and successful as possible for everyone. Digital touchpoints such as the importance of digital body language, optimizing your virtual classroom and moving from face-to-face to digital are topics close to our hearts.

Want to learn more about Speexx and the most advanced, effective language learning solution for the digital workplace? Book a free demo now!

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Is your body language over Zoom sending the wrong signs?

For many, social interaction during the pandemic has been limited to video calls or other digital communications, making it difficult to read a room.

While some employees have begun to go back into the office , a recent study from UpWork, a freelancing platform, estimates that 1 in 4 Americans will be working remotely through 2021. The study estimated that by 2025, more than 36 million Americans might be working remotely permanently.

Whether you're on a conference call or doing a virtual happy hour, NBC News investigative and consumer correspondent Vicky Nguyen has some tips on how to decode body language for your next video call, no matter how many screen freezes or audio glitches get in the way.

digital body language essay

TMRW x TODAY How to communicate clearly when working remotely

How to learn digital body language:.

Erica Dhawan, the author of self-help book "Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection No Matter the Distance," sat down with Nguyen to talk about things people should keep in mind while collaborating online .

"It is more important than ever to make sure that we're conscious of the signals we're sending," Dhawan said. "Digital body language are the new cues and signals we send that make up the subtext of our messages in digital communication. Everything from our punctuation to our response times to our video backgrounds in a video call make up signals of trust, respect and even confidence in our modern world."

Just like traditional body language, digital body language is important — and it takes time and practice . Nguyen gathered a group of producers for a conversation over Zoom, then had Dhawan analyze their body language and behavior.

digital body language essay

TMRW x TODAY Miss your office bestie? How to maintain friendships while working from home

Dhawan noticed a "few nonverbal signals" like fidgeting hands and eyes glancing off camera, which can be signs that someone is unsure or caught off guard. Another frequent sign was crossed arms, which could signal "anger or defensiveness," though the crossed arms were usually accompanied by a smile, which "showcases a focus or that someone is listening." Other common signs, like quick blinking, can indicate stress, while a furrowed brow might indicate confusion.

Your camera placement also matters. Dhawan recommends making sure that you aren't sitting too close to the camera, and that the angle is placed so that "individuals are not looking up your nose or at your forehead."

Add in some nods and smiles while looking straight into the camera, and you'll come off like an engaged and effective communicator.

Stay focused by limiting distractions.

Another issue can be managing distractions to avoid appearing distracted. One producer admitted that he was preoccupied by emails, which came in even while he was looking at the camera.

Dhawan said that the best way to manage distractions is run the meeting like you would run an in-person one: Plan a focused agenda that can help people stay on track.

To avoid cross talk, Dhawan recommends using the chat feature to ask questions, or call on people randomly so that people stay focused on the meeting. You can also hide your self-view to stay even more focused on other participants in the meeting.

TMRW x TODAY Starting a new job during the coronavirus pandemic? Here's what I've learned

Don't forget about texts and emails..

Other forms of communication, like texts and emails, are also an important part of working from home . While people should put some thought into the way they communicate through these platforms, it's also important to avoid overanalyzing the messages you're receiving: Always assume positive intentions from the other person.

Dhawan compared reading messages and emails carefully to close listening, and said that it can be important to consider the medium you're using. Texting has a less formal feel than email, so people may act differently depending on how they're communicating.

If you ever are confused, Dhawan recommends cutting to the chase: Just pick up the phone and give the other person a call!

Kerry Breen is a reporter and associate editor for  TODAY.com , where she reports on health news, pop culture and more. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from New York University. 

Vicky Nguyen is the Investigative and Consumer correspondent for NBC News. See her reports on “TODAY,” “Nightly News with Lester Holt,” and MSNBC.

Conor Ferguson is a consumer investigative producer with the NBC News Investigative Unit.

Digital Body Language: Three Tips for Writing and How to Adapt

By Jody Bruner

April 3, 2024

Writing Skills

Digital Body Language: Three Tips for Writing and How to Adapt - instant-messaging-speech-bubbles

We’ve known for a while now that digital natives, who are born after 1980 and the onset of the Digital Age, prefer texting to a phone call, even when a call or meeting is easier. They text to ask for a call or to say an email was sent, and they respond to a call with text or email. Don’t bother leaving a voicemail, because they ignore those. And they’re famous for using shorthand like LOL.

Digital adapters, generally born before 1980, prefer phone calls or a face-to-face meeting to email or text. They often take their time answering texts, and use formal language and punctuation, including signing off a text as if it were a letter or email. They also tend to send curt text messages that lack context and seem alarming to natives.

I recently read Erica Dhawan’s Digital Body Language: How to Build Trust and Connection, No Matter the Distance and learned that while the best way to reach your adult children is by text, there’s more: HOW you text them is also important. Here are some pointers:

  • Use more exclamation marks, especially in your text messages, IMs and emails.
  • Emojis are good. 😊 Use them to add nuance to your tone.
  • Beware of periods in short text messages.

Use more exclamation marks!!!

The exclamation mark doesn’t belong in formal writing, but it does have a place in text messages and emails.

In Digital Body Language , Erica Dhawan writes:

The return of the exclamation mark is one of the most epic comebacks in punctuation history—and a cautionary tale for those who don’t keep up with the times.

In the past, exclamation marks were considered too much in business writing. They can feel fake and goofy, like laughing at your own joke.

As a digital adaptor myself, I used to limit myself to one exclamation point per email, because I believed that the right words and tone alone could convey friendliness, excitement, and approachability. I still believe in conveying a positive tone with words. But digital natives have taught us to compensate for the lack of emotional signals and cues in digital communication by being a lot less formal. So, “Sorry for missing the conference call” becomes, “I’m so so soooo SORRY!!!!”

As the style of writing swings toward informality, always use your judgment when writing on the job. Don’t start randomly sprinkling your emails with exclamation marks! Consider your organization’s culture and who you’re writing to—their personality and your relationship with them. The best practice is to mirror the other person, especially if they’re a client or are senior to you in the organization.

Today, exclamation marks signal friendliness. “They have become so obligatory in emails that you risk coming off as brusque or cold if you fail to use them.” They make us extra loud or extra nice. They add energy to your message and demonstrate your sincerity.

The next time you find yourself writing “OK” in response to someone in a text message, consider adding an exclamation mark. “OK!” Or, “OK, great!” shows your enthusiastic agreement and builds camaraderie.

Emojis are good 😊

They provide texture and context to messages. In the real world, emojis substitute for your face or gestures. Use them to clarify your tone.

Can you use emojis in email? Yes! Microsoft just added the option of responding to a message with an emoji. You can send a thumbs up to show your approval or a heart to show appreciation.

Like exclamation marks, emojis are useful tools for adding emotion to flat mediums. Know your audience and use them with judgement!

The period—use with caution.

Did you know the period at the end of a short text message today signifies cold, cruel fury to digital natives? Think angry face.

Consider this example:

Can you walk my dog tonight?

  • – Sure! (Shows enthusiasm.)
  • – Sure. (Brief text messages that end with a period are considered insincere or angry.)
  • – Sure… (This is seen as passive aggressive.)

Going forward, I can commit to never again writing a text message that says “OK.” Instead, I’ll replace the period with an exclamation point: “OK!”

Even though things have changed and we are even more informal than ever, always be mindful of your audience and use your judgement before you start peppering your emails with emojis and exclamation marks. Remember to mirror the other person, especially if they have more power than you.

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  • Erica Dhawan

There are too many ways to communicate at work. Let’s set some ground rules.

We are in the midst of a major transition from remote to hybrid work. As this shift is happening, it’s essential for managers to establish norms around digital communication with their teams. Having a detailed guide will help ensure that everyone on your team is on the same page and has the same expectations — regardless of who is working from where. The author offers guidance for how to have these norm-establishing conversations and how to make sure your established norms then stick.

Back when we were in the office, we all knew the unwritten rules of communication. If someone had large headphones on, they probably were focused on work, and didn’t want to be interrupted to gossip about the latest drama. Or if your team was about to have an important meeting with a client, you would quickly run through last-minute questions before walking into the room.

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  • Erica Dhawan is a leading expert on 21st century teamwork and collaboration. She is an award-winning keynote speaker and the author of the new book  Digital Body Language . Download her free guide to “ End Digital Burnout .” Follow her on  LinkedIn .  

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How Your ‘Digital Body Language’ Affects Your Dating Life

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I n dating, body language has always been an essential way of communicating what might not be said aloud—nonverbal communication like a lingering glance, a turn toward another person, or a subtle touching of hands can communicate volumes. But for modern daters in an increasingly online world, these tactics aren't always available. That's why experts are making the case that we need to consider digital body language as a crucial part of modern dating.

Digital body language, or DBL, is communication in which digital interaction, like messaging on a dating app or over text, is used to express or convey contextual information. Like conventional body language, DBL is all about reading what isn't being said aloud—non-verbal subtext, if you will,—which means that seemingly commonplace aspects of digital communication, like emojis, punctuation, message length, and response time, are now important ways for daters to gauge potential interest. According to a new study by Hinge about the state of dating for Gen Z , 77% of people who use their platform say that DBL reveals a lot about a match's interests and intentions.

The report, which surveyed over 15,000 Gen Z daters, also found that 69% of those surveyed rely on DBL to decide if they want to commit to going out with someone. Hinge's Love and Connection expert, licensed marriage and family therapist Moe Ari Brown, says that Gen Z's embrace and reliance on DBL should come as no suprise, given the constant presence of technology throughout their lives.

"Gen Z daters are a digital native generation," Brown tells TIME. "They were born with technology and don't know a world without it, but that has made them pretty awesome at interpreting what the online version of verbal and nonverbal cues would be, so they are savvy at reading DBL as a way of understanding someone's dating intentions."

Though interpreting DBL is quickly becoming a necessary part of modern dating, it's presented some unique challenges for daters. Hinge reports that 56% of those surveyed said that they have overanalyzed someone's digital body language and stressed over whether or not someone was actually interested in dating them.

Brown points to the three things Hinge's research found that Gen Z was most concerned with when it comes to DBL: who initiates conversation, the timing of responses, and message consistency. For him, good DBL boils down essentially to the tenets of good communication, regardless of the mechanism.

"Good communication [in dating] is being clear about your intentions from the very beginning," he says. "Good DBL looks like not leaving a lot up to interpretation—so no one-word answers or very short responses. We want to always be thoughtful in our responses and think about how this is going to be received by another person."

Brown says it can be as simple as carefully considering what emojis you use or the punctuation at the end of a sentence. He also makes the case that a good rule of thumb is using the golden rule: treat others as you'd like to be treated.

"Doing a self-check on your digital body language is good—if you put yourself in someone else's shoes and were on the receiving end of what you send and you feel that your communication is very clear, that will probably lead to more dates," he says.

Fluency in DBL has become increasingly important as Gen Z has entered the dating pool. As perhaps the most "online" generation currently dating, Gen Z is 33% more likely than their millennial counterparts, according to Hinge, to say that they feel more comfortable chatting online with a potential partner than they would be in real life. Gen Z daters are also far more concerned with appearing cool to would-be matches. The daters surveyed were 50% more likely than millennials to delay responding to a message, in an effort to "play it cool," even if they were interested in them.

"The downside to DBL is that we might not lean in and make the possible connections that we could," Brown says. "If we're doing too much interpretation and not enough leaning in, then we're not being clear ourselves."

While DBL can be a great way to gauge if there's interest in going on a date, Brown says it shouldn't necessarily be the metric for screening potential partners. He encourages people to use possible differences in communication styles—like if one person texts frequently and the other doesn't respond—as an incentive to get to know them better. In this particular scenario, Brown says being clear and direct about what makes you feel uncomfortable can help resolve the issue and also hint at possible compatibility.

He offers up a script for the situation: "'Hey, I noticed that when we talk sometimes, you stop responding and I don't know whether to follow up with you. I'd love to to keep our response timing more prompt or would love if you respond within 24 hours, just so I know that we're going to keep communicating.'" The other person's response can be quite telling. "If they're not receptive to that, then they don't really have the flexibility that is essential for partnership," he says. "You're not going to have the same communication to begin with. It's really about that person's flexibility and willingness to change it to grow with you. Those are the cornerstones of good partnership."

Brown also emphasizes that having conversations like this can be better in person and stresses that good DBL should lead to in-person connection, not replace it. In other words, while the world is increasingly digital, it appears that there's still nothing quite like getting to know someone IRL.

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Does Your Digital Body Language Send the Right Message?

digital body language

“Fresh ideas from the Blacklight”

Sbc’s weekly newsletter for professionals.

The coronavirus outbreak has made working from home the new normal for many professionals. That means emails, messaging apps, phone calls, and video chats will serve as our lifelines to the office for the immediate future. Here are two things to remember about your digital body language and virtual communication as we navigate these uncharted waters together.

Send the Right Signal

Now more than ever, we must become mindful of how influential our digital body language can be. It covers everything from group chat emojis to how you announce yourself in conference calls, explains Shama Hyder, founder, and CEO of Zen Media.

In her recent piece for Inc. , Hyder notes that “our digital body language is critical for establishing and maintaining good rapport, contributing to high morale, and just generally creating a positive work environment for everyone at the company.”

For now, over-communication is the order of the day, Hyder says. Open, frequent, and effective communication prevents things from falling through the cracks. Hyder also thinks people used to working together in person might struggle with nailing the right tone in instant messages, emails, texts, and other online written communication.

“Uncertainty is everywhere, and employees may be much more ready to jump to unpleasant conclusions than they would be otherwise,” Hyder warns.

Make Up for Missing Body Language Cues

Erica Dhawan, a leading authority on 21st-century collaboration and connectional intelligence , echoes those concerns. She says we should keep two things in mind to use our digital body language effectively. First, realize that brevity can cause confusion. We need to be conscious of how we’re communicating, and if we’re clear, Dhawan explains.

We’ve seen in the data is that there’s an immense amount of misunderstanding, anxiety, and confusion because we don’t have the context of the stare, the nod, or the shake that we’re used to in human body language.

Second, we need to realize that timing is everything. If you send emails to your team late at night or on the weekend, are you signaling that you expect them to be “on” at all times? If that’s not your intention, consider hanging on to those messages as drafts. You can send them Monday morning instead.

Tuning in to and adapting your digital body language can have a profound effect on your professional and personal relationships. This LinkedIn Learning course by Dhawan is a great place to start if you need help in this area.

digital body language

Add a Personal Touch to Virtual Meetings

We’re facing an extended period of self-isolation. That means we’re going to crave human connection more than ever—especially those of us who live alone. Here’s a simple but beneficial habit to start incorporating now.

Whenever you call for a virtual meeting or plan to give a presentation to the team, build in time at the beginning for casual interaction. Adding a social element goes a long way toward replicating the comradery of face-to-face encounters. Slack’s ultimate guide to remote meetings has this sage advice:

Check in with everyone attending. Spend a few minutes having small talk as a group about what’s going on with work or at home. This will build rapport and help people feel more connected to each other at this crucial time. Also, it will boost engagement in the topic at hand once you get down to business. If you don’t do some ice-breaking first, you risk harming relationships.

We’ll be back next time with more practical tips on how to boost your virtual meeting and presentation skills. These will come in handy right away, but will also serve you well when life finally gets back to normal.

Did you enjoy this post about digital body language and online etiquette?  It originally appeared on  the Blacklight , our weekly newsletter for professionals. At  the Blacklight, we  aim to illuminate  with every dispatch that lands in your inbox.  If you’re thirsty for guidance to help you slay it at work or as a student and move your goalposts closer,  sign up  today!

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